December 8, 2014
Guest: Chris Rock
TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Chris Rock, wrote, directed and stars in the new movie comedy "Top Five." It's about a comic and features several comics and comic actors including Cedric the Entertainer, Kevin Hart, Tracy Morgan, Michael Che, Jay Pharoah and Jerry Seinfeld. Rock plays Andre Allen, a standup comic who has starred in a series of broad comedies as a character called Hammy the Bear, which required wearing a ludicrous bear costume. He's given up that role, given up comedy, given up drinking and is trying to reshape his career with his new dramatic film about a Haitian slave rebellion. "Top Five" takes place during the day the film opens as he's winding up his promotional tour. Rosario Dawson plays a New York Times reporter who interviews him and shadows him through the day, a day in which a lot of his assumptions about himself are challenged. In this scene, Andre Allen is promoting his movie on a Sirius satellite radio show where he's been asked to record a promo.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TOP FIVE")
CHRIS ROCK: (As Andre Allen) Hey, what's up? This is Andre Allen and when I listen to satellite radio, I listen to Sirius Hits 1.
BRIAN REGAN: Just, you know, say it - just put a little - put a little stank on it.
ROCK: (As Andre Allen) Stank?
REGAN: Stank. Stank.
ROCK: (As Andre Allen) Stank?
REGAN: Give it stank.
ROCK: (As Andre Allen) OK. I don't really know what you mean. Could you show me?
REGAN: You're the funny - I'm not - I'm - OK. All right. It's like - hey, this is an Andre Allen when I was at the satellite radio - woah - I listen to Serius Hits 1.
ROCK: (As Andre Allen) Stank?
REGAN: Stank. Nice and funny. Go.
ROCK: (As Andre Allen) What's up, [bleep]?
GROSS: Chris Rock, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Can we just start by acknowledging that it's just a little bit awkward for me to do the interview when a lot of the movie is about how awful it is for a filmmaker to do all the interviews publicizing a movie when the movie's opening (laughter)?
ROCK: (Laughter) Well, you know, it's horrible sometimes when your movie's not good because you're, like, defending the movie for the most part. You're trying to stop a plane from crashing. So that's kind of what the movie deals with, a little bit more than this.
GROSS: Have you been in...
ROCK: Unless you hate the movie. Then I'm in trouble.
GROSS: No. No (laughter).
Have you been in that position of having to go on a tour promoting something you didn't really like very much?
ROCK: Oh, yeah. Yeah. A couple of times. A few too many times. You know, not that you didn't like a movie, but just some movie you know the critics don't like, you know. When the critics don't like it, you know, a lot of times they try to change the subject. It's like - this weather is something. How about those Mets?
GROSS: So the movie is about somebody who's lost his way both as a comedian and also as a person. And I'm wondering if you went through a period like that yourself that you drew on in making the movie.
ROCK: I mean, you know, any artist - I lost my way. It's not even that you've lost your way, you just question it. You've been doing it long enough, like, OK, how much longer can I do this? Am I still funny? I feel that with standup a lot where, like - can I still do it? I remember I did SNL a few weeks ago - I hadn't done standup in a while. I was just like, OK, can I pull this off? So, you know, there's natural doubts if you're trying anything. If you're not trying anything then there's no doubt, because you're like a robot.
GROSS: That was really funny. And I couldn't tell what direction you were heading in at first on Saturday Night Live...
GROSS: ...You know? Honestly. But it got so funny and so good. But, you know, in the movie, the character's actually given up standup and he thinks he's - he doesn't want to be funny anymore. He doesn't feel funny anymore and he wants to make uplifting entertainment.
ROCK: Very "Stardust Memories," yes.
ROCK: "Sullivan's Travels," "Stardust Memories."
GROSS: Right. So when you feel, like, in those periods where, like, like you said now, you're sometimes not sure if you want to keep doing standup or if you're - is it that you're not sure if you're still funny or that you're not sure you still enjoy doing standup or not sure that you still have stuff you want to talk about in standup context?
ROCK: All of the above. I mean, the first fear is - can you do it? And the second fear is - can you do it at the level you did it as a younger person? Because, you know, even though we're not athletes, you know, we even talk slower than we did whatever years ago. You ever hear, like, when Stern is playing some old show?
It's like, wow, his voice is so different than it is now. So, a lot of times, yeah. Even though, you know, we don't lose our knees or anything. But, you know, we change. And it's like, do people even like you anymore - is a big thing. It's like, I don't look the way I looked 20 years ago or whatever. Is it going to be the same - is it going to be same reaction? Do people like somebody - oh, this new guy's big. Everybody's into his style. It's all doubts.
GROSS: I want to talk about the character that Cedric the Entertainer plays, Jazzy D, he's really funny in this. Would you describe the character and what he's wearing?
ROCK: OK. What's he wearing?
GROSS: And the great wig - the great wig.
ROCK: The great - well, you know, it's not supposed to be a wig but he's...
GROSS: No, no. It's not supposed to be a wig, yeah.
ROCK: ...He's a smalltime concert promoter in Houston, Texas. And I'm sure he's got on alligator shoes and some kind of polyester pants and a silk shirt and a...
GROSS: ...Big medallion around his neck.
ROCK: Big medallion and bowler hat.
GROSS: And a kind of not quite James Brown hairdo.
ROCK: Yes. Very James Brown's - got a conch. And he's - he's just what - I can get you anything in town. He's that guy. Whatever you need - smoke, weed, girls, whatever you need. I'm the man in Houston. You let me know and I'll get you. Any entertainer - anybody that's toured - knows you meet a person like that in pretty much every town you go to.
GROSS: OK. And your character says he expects to get off the plane and be met by a college student and instead - you know, he was going to drive him to the hotel. Instead, it's this guy. It's Jazzy D. And so those guys who you've met, probably particularly earlier in your career when you were less famous...
ROCK: Yes - particularly. I don't need them now.
GROSS: I'm sure you get a nice limo now (laughter).
ROCK: Yeah (laughter).
GROSS: But, back then, earlier in your career, what are some of these things these guys would actually do for you and did they also con you?
ROCK: They would try to get you drugs or women or drugs and women or try to get you to go to their friend's restaurant to take pictures or whatever. You know, and they would con you and they wouldn't pay you half the time. Or, sometimes - I remember a lot of times the promoter would be a bad comedian and put himself on the show. So we had to deal with this guy. And sometimes the guy would not only be a bad comedian, he wouldn't even put him - he'd put himself on the show as the close to the show. So...
GROSS: He'd be stupid enough to follow you?
ROCK: Yeah. Well, you know, it wasn't always, like, this hard thing to follow me. But, a couple of guys, yeah. I remember promoters, basically - shows with me, Cedric the Entertainer and Jamie Foxx and some promoter is closing the show.
GROSS: So one of the things your character goes through is that he's engaged and his fiancee is a reality show star. And he doesn't really want to deal with that but she, of course, needs him to deal with that. And I, of course, wondered if you have had friends who've been in reality shows and if you were ever willingly or unwillingly on camera in one as a result?
ROCK: Yeah. I had to go - OK, I won't say their name - but it was a couple. And we got invited - we were going to go to - my wife didn't tell me - we were going to go to Magic Mountain in LA with the kids - two families going together. And no one told me they were filming their reality show. So we're literally being followed by a camera crew the whole day.
And, by the way, it's hard enough walking around if you're me on a normal day, when I'm not trying to draw attention to myself - it can get a little hectic. But me and this other couple, whose kind of celebrities, with a camera crew all day. It was the worst day at an amusement park in my life.
GROSS: So, did you try to say no thank you? You didn't tell me and I don't to be a part of it?
ROCK: I - you know what? It would've been - the kids - you know, I was already there. Our kids were friends. Our friends - and I was actually looking forward to spending, you know, the day with the kids and so I tried to make it work. But - woah.
GROSS: That seems so unfair to your kids because they were a part of the reality show, too.
ROCK: They- yeah, yeah. Yeah, I was not told. It was a very, very odd, surreal day.
GROSS: So another thing in the movie is - sobriety is an issue for the character. One of the reasons why he's making serious films is because, like, he's not drinking anymore. And I'm wondering if you've watch a lot of people you know really change as performers and as people when they've stopped drinking or stopped doing drugs?
ROCK: Oh, yeah. It's - you know, it's weird. The hardest one is stop smoking cigarettes. People who stop drinking or stop doing drugs, they basically become better, more truthful people. People who stop smoking cigarettes, they actually become worse (laughter). It's like people that smoke and quit - oh, they're some grouchy people. But...
GROSS: Yeah. Well, because it's not like you're getting high on cigarettes. But the withdrawal is still really bad.
ROCK: Yeah the withdrawal is really, really bad - worse than anything I've ever seen - totally different people off cigarettes. But, yeah, this - my older brother, you know, pretty much drank himself to death and, you know, this has been - you know, drinking has been big in my life - even my artistic life. I mean, I did the play "The Mother With The Hat," you know, we were alcoholics in that play. Years ago, I mean, I wasn't drinking. But - "New Jack City" - I play a crackhead. So substance abuse has been good to me artistically.
GROSS: What about in real life? Has that ever been a problem?
ROCK: It's never been a problem in real life. I just had enough people in my life with problems. And I realized early on working in comedy clubs. It's like I work in a bar, so I probably need to not drink a lot, because a lot of comedians are alcoholics. A lot of comedians are alcoholics. A lot of comedians are drug addicts. A lot of comedians are addicted to gambling. Comedians, you know, can be a sad bunch.
GROSS: You said your brother drank himself to death literally. I mean, did he die?
ROCK: Yeah, literally. Yeah, he died. He died.
GROSS: How old was he and how old were you when it happened?
ROCK: Oh, boy, was this in the last - I would say about - OK, I'm 49 now. So I would say he died when I was about 41 - 41, so about 8 years ago or something like that.
GROSS: Did you see it coming?
ROCK: You know, you never see - it's weird. You know what? In retrospect, I did see it coming. I remember the last time he was at the house and he was really drunk and he was falling and it was like one of those, like - OK, you're too drunk to be around the kids. And it's weird. In a weird way I kind of knew I wasn't going to see him again. Now when I think about it, it's almost - it's almost - I had the same thing the last time I saw Chris Farley. It was just like, OK, I'm not going to see him again. It's not that I thought he was going to die. I just knew - it's like, I'm not going to see this drunk guy again. The only way I'm going to see him is if he's another person. You know what I mean?
ROCK: It's like, either this guy's going to get clean or he's going to die. That's the point he was at, and he died.
GROSS: It must be really hard, in a situation like that, because I'm sure your impulse was to try to save him, but you can't. I mean - or you couldn't. It's not easy to do that.
ROCK: It's not easy to do that. People have to want it. They have to really, really want it. You know, you can't force somebody into rehab, and it's too easy to get. Especially alcohol is way too easy to get.
GROSS: Yeah. My guest is Chris Rock. He wrote, directed and stars in the new movie comedy "Top Five." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: If you are just joining us, my guest is Chris Rock, and he wrote, directed and stars in the new movie "Top Five." So I'm really enjoying talking with you. And here's a question about the movie - and this is the part of the interview where I'm afraid I'm going to lose you.
ROCK: Oh, Terry - Terry Gross.
ROCK: Terry Gross, come on.
GROSS: I don't want to give away too much, but there is a woman in a relationship with a guy she doesn't realize is gay, even though the thing he likes best is anal stimulation...
ROCK: Right - which doesn't make you gay, by the way.
GROSS: ...Which doesn't make you gay. And I'm trying to keep this all radio-friendly.
GROSS: So there's a few graphic jokes that I can't describe on the radio.
ROCK: Right, right, right.
GROSS: And one that ends up being kind of cruel, even though it's played for comedy - and let me explain what made me uncomfortable. There's still so many people who think that gay male sex is icky or disgusting. And I'm afraid that this is possibly a way of mocking gay sex without it being gay sex because it's a woman who's doing the stimulation.
GROSS: I thought this had the potential of playing into that pre-existing phobia and having people laugh on a different level - you know what I mean? - on a level of, like, oh, ick. That's really disgusting, and gay men do that, too.
ROCK: I'm going to say about four or five women told me similar stories.
ROCK: Yeah. And, yeah, that's how jokes happen. It's never like one person or two. It's like you got to hear it a few times when you do stuff like that, or else, you know, you're just being mean. So I'd heard stories about stuff like this. And I don't know. That's all - that's all I got. I don't think - I - you know, I - you know, I feel your pain, but I've never thought about any joke or anything like that deeply.
GROSS: Do you think I'm overreacting?
ROCK: I mean, you're Terry Gross. So, I mean, it's your job to analyze this and, you know, fight the good fight and - you know. But, you know, it's - I'm probably - I'm the only - I might be the only black comedian the country that hasn't gay-bashed ever.
GROSS: Well, that's the thing. I...
ROCK: (Laughter). I...
GROSS: No, but that's the thing. I admire you for not doing that. But...
ROCK: I'm like - like, ever - like, like, ever. I'm...
GROSS: People are so used to gay bashing jokes in comedy. It's such a common thing. I think that's why...
ROCK: It's not a common thing. It's like...
GROSS: Gay bashing and comedy?
ROCK: It's - name two comedians that do it right now.
GROSS: Oh, I've heard so many jokes.
ROCK: Give me two.
GROSS: Oh, I'm not good at remembering things.
ROCK: If somebody asked you - you say something happens all the time. And then somebody says, give me two - they didn't say, give me 10; they said, give me two...
GROSS: No. OK, I will refer you to...
ROCK: ...You're probably wrong, right?
GROSS: Well, I will refer you to an episode of "Louie," of Louis CK's show. There's a whole riff on that because all the comics are sitting around and having their card game. And...
ROCK: Yeah, but they're sitting with Rick Crom. This guy we've known for 30 years. He's one of our best friends.
GROSS: Yeah, yeah, but I think, you know, the premise is that people do this in their act, too. And, I...
ROCK: Yeah, I mean - I mean, I don't know. No one's bashing - Louis CK is not gay-bashing.
GROSS: No, of course not. He was raising the question about where is the line? Like, the whole - that whole scene was about, like, where is the line between something being funny and something being, you know, bashing or stereotypical. But anyways...
ROCK: I mean, the line - I don't know where the line is. The line - first of all, the line is like religion. Where's the intent? It's like in most religions, you're taught that you're not going to be judged by your actions; you're going to be judged by your intent. So if your intent is to gay-bash, yes, you are a gay-basher, even when you don't do it. And if your intent is to not, then it's not. Now, it can still be offensive, but once you explain that to the person that made the mistake, you can pretty much be sure they will go back on that and try to rectify hurting you. Does this make sense? You know, I see stuff that I think's a little racist, but I judge the person. I judge the person. I judge their other work. Well, OK, that guy - he just doesn't know. Maybe I'll say something next time I see him. But I don't go to bash, or I don't go to, oh, he's racist.
GROSS: Yeah, and I really love your work. And it's not like, you know - I'm was just wondering about that scene 'cause there was something about it that was troubling me. So I just thought I'd tell you what it was, and that we could talk about it a little. So thank you for talking with me about it.
GROSS: Now I want to tell you something...
GROSS: ...That might seem the opposite of something - that - of what I was a saying, which is, you know, I was reading your interview with Frank Rich...
ROCK: Frank - nice guy.
GROSS: It's an interview that's gotten a lot of attention. And one of the things you said there was that you don't play college campuses anymore because they've become way too conservative. And...
ROCK: They're really conservative, but here's the weird thing. You take those same people off the campus, and they act like adults. There's just something weird and very politically correct about - I mean, people are sensitive. I mean, you're sensitive, you know.
GROSS: Yeah, but that's the thing. I kind of get exactly what you're saying about people being too PC and how it's really hard to do comedy in that kind of atmosphere where everything you say is going to offend somebody. So I feel a little hypocritical (laughter) totally agreeing with you on that.
ROCK: (Laughter) I'm like, I literally just went through that with you. I'm OK.
GROSS: I know. I know, and then I literally just put you through that. So I just wanted to make you - like, let you know I'm aware of that contradiction (laughter). But sometimes, something strikes you the wrong way, so you say something. But, you know, on the other hand, like, I really - I get what you're saying. Can you give us an example - maybe something that you feel like you can't say?
ROCK: I made, you - just now, you just did it. You just did it. You saw a joke. A guy that's never gay-bashed anybody ever...
ROCK: ...In his life (laughter) - ever, ever - totally opposite. And you got, you know - you kind of got bent out of shape a little bit over this thing. I mean, you're intent, you know - that's what it is, you know. It's not even that you got bent out of shape about it. I'm not mad about about any of it. No comedian wants to have to have to analyze and defend something. It's like you thought something was funny. You wrote it down. You acted it out. You talked to people. You know, it works, or it doesn't work. I'm not a politician. I'm not a thinker. I'm a comedian - just like, OK, tell jokes. Some work, some don't. There's no bigger indictment that the joke's not working than to not laugh. Nothing's a bigger indictment. Nothing's a bigger, screamingly, this is wrong than the sound of non-laughter.
GROSS: Chris Rock will be back in the second half of the show. He wrote, directed and stars in the new movie comedy "Top Five." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Chris Rock. He wrote, directed and stars in the new movie comedy "Top Five." He plays a comic who's given up standup comedy as well as his comedy movie franchise. Thankfully Rock hasn't given up standup. Last month he returned to "Saturday Night Live," where he had been a cast member from 1990 to '93. Several current and former cast members have cameos in "Top Five." Here's an excerpt of a "Saturday Night Live" opening monologue.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")
ROCK: I went down to Washington, D.C. for an anti-gun event, OK, anti-gun thing at the White House. I'm not big anti-gun, but I just think there should be some regulations just in case, like the same way I can't drive a NASCAR down the street.
ROCK: I shouldn't be able to have a machine gun in my house across the street from the school, OK? That's simple.
ROCK: So I go to this thing and it's me and a bunch of celebrities, and we speak out against guns. And then I come home, and I check out my website. And I look at my website and there's all these threats on there - I'm going to kill you, I'm going to put one in your head, I'll slit your throat, don't you dare come between me and my weapon. And I realized, oh, my God, I need a gun.
ROCK: I need a gun right now. And from that moment on, I said I will never get involved in any charity or cause for the rest of my life. You're on your own. I don't care what disease it is. I don't care if it's protecting kids, the environment. I don't care. If you see me talking about a disease, I've got it.
GROSS: That was Chris Rock last month on "Saturday Night Live." When we left off we were talking about why he stopped performing on college campuses.
Since you're not doing college campuses anymore do you miss that? Do you miss that audience, or is it just, like, you won't perform on the campus, but you'll perform to those people in...
ROCK: Yeah, I'll play outside their campus.
GROSS: Like, a concert hall? Yeah.
ROCK: Yeah, I mean, I'm older now. I mean, my comedy if you pay bills, taxes and been in love and lost love and been in relationships I'm the person for you. College kids are, you know, something else. I like grown people. I like people that have been - had life punch them in the face.
GROSS: When you were young, did you think that you would feel that way or did you always want to be young? You know, and like stay young.
ROCK: I always hung around older guys. Everybody around me was always five - 10 years even older than me. And even now I gravitate to people that are older than me. It's just more interesting. Especially comedians, I mean, there's no great 20-year-old comedians, never been. There is no Justin Bieber of comedy. It just doesn't happen.
ROCK: You know? Eddie Murphy's the only one I ever saw, like, that was really amazing in his 20s. Everybody else - Pryor - everybody, Cosby - everybody - most of them didn't get good until they were in their mid-30s.
GROSS: You know, that reminds me, you know, in your new movie "Top Five" there's a lot of rappers in it that "Top Five" references - or reference, like, just about everybody in the movie has to name their top five in music. So there's a lot of, you know, rappers who are name checked in the film as well as a lot who are appearing in the film. And when you starting out, like, I think before you were doing comedy, you thought about possibly doing rap? Do have that right?
ROCK: Well, I did rap. At first I was a DJ for years. It was like spin block parties and house parties and whatever. I rapped. I even - I had a deal, I think with like Atlantic Records or one of these record companies...
GROSS: You had a deal to do a rap record?
ROCK: Yeah, like a deal. I mean, it was a long time ago. There weren't rap albums then. So you had a deal to do a 45, like a single. So I had a deal to do single, and then I kind of fell into comedy.
GROSS: Did you ever record it?
ROCK: I did record it. If you can find it its really bad somewhere.
GROSS: Was it released?
ROCK: No, no. It was not released.
GROSS: Why not?
ROCK: Because it sucked.
GROSS: (Laughter). What did you sound like?
ROCK: What did I sound like? I probably sounded like a bad MC Hammer.
GROSS: Were your rhymes funny or were - social commentary, party?
ROCK: (Laughter). I guess they were kind of funny. Yeah, I guess they were kind of funny. It was not social commentary. I was not trying to be Melle Mel. I tried it all, Terry.
ROCK: I tried it all.
GROSS: So what you're trying now, I mean, - what? - this is your third film that you've directed.
GROSS: What do you love about directing?
ROCK: I like the control. I like creating a world, you know. And the worlds going to look whatever you way you want it to look. I like just making these people come to life. It's like the guy who built Frankenstein, you know. I can create my own friends. I can create a girlfriend. It's like (laughter) I can make a girl - OK - And she's going to look like this, and she's going to dress like this. And it's why guys are always falling in love with their costars because you make them.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Chris Rock and he wrote, directed and stars in the new film "Top five.
GROSS: So I know that you tweeted about the Eric Garner grand jury decision to not indict the police officer who strangled Garner to death. I'm wondering how you feel when an event like that happens - what you feel your desire or your responsibility is to speak about it publicly, you know, in a tweet or...
ROCK: I mean, I'm just tweeting like everybody else. I'm not sitting around thinking I have a - I'm not Batman. I don't have, like, a responsibility I don't think. You know, I'll answer a question about it, but to think I have a responsibility is almost - it's very egotistical. I think, I mean, the president has a responsibility and every politician has a responsibility. I mean, I guess I have a responsibility to be aware of it even though it's not funny at all. There's probably going to be some angle, you know, and I haven't figured it out yet, but there will be some angle that highlights the injustice that happened.
GROSS: Can you talk a little bit about what that process would be like of figuring out what that angle is, or does that something that just comes to you?
ROCK: I don't know, you know, you've got to let it sit a little bit. It kind of it just comes to you, though. You know, it's the old thing. They say tragedy plus time is comedy. You probably couldn't tell a joke about it yesterday. And by the way, the joke's never going to be about, you know, Eric. The joke would be about just the hypocrisy. What did I write the other day? It was like are black men an endangered species? No, because endangered species are protected by the law.
ROCK: Yeah, I mean, that's an example of people - you can't cross the line. There is no line. It's just, like, can you write the joke or can you not write the joke?
GROSS: Do you feel like you grew up in a different world than your girls did?
ROCK: I grew up in a totally different world. There are children in a totally different world than I was a child. Two worlds have nothing to - I was bussed to school in '73. There were picket signs because we were the first black kids in the - at the school I went to. And it was pretty brutal. Yes. And my kids know nothing of that world.
GROSS: I'm sure you're relieved that they don't know that kind of racism. But at the same time, do you worry that they're in a bubble, and that they should know stuff that maybe they don't? And how much do you want to, like, tell them, well, just because you're not experiencing racism personally doesn't mean it's not over? Do know what I'm saying?
ROCK: Yeah, I know what you mean. I mean, you know, hey, let's show them the Jackie Robinson movie. There's a lot of that going on. Let's sit through "Roots." Of course you're glad they're not going through that kind of racism. And at the same time, you know, TV's on CNN all the time when the TV's on. You know, and we try to talk about what's going on. You know, it's different with girls, too. It's weird because girls - God bless - are just not in that kind of danger. Girls don't get shot by the cops. You know, my brother Andre has three boys, so I'm sure the way he raised his boys is a little different - his tact on race is a little different than my tact with my girls.
GROSS: When you were growing up your father had grown up in a different world. It was a different era.
GROSS: And I don't know how distant his era felt from you when you were young because I know, like, my parent's childhood felt, like, way far away to me when I was growing up. And now history just seems much more compressed to me. The past seems much more present to me now as an adult than it did to me as a child. The past seemed very remote, irrelevant in a lot of ways. And I guess in raising your daughters knowing that they're growing up in such a kind of different world than you did, both because times have changed and because you're so successful they're growing up the children of a very successful, famous person - do you worry that your world, the world you grew up in, will seem so far away and remote to them? And what are some of the things you feel you can do to make sure it doesn't feel that way?
ROCK: My world is far and remote to them. I don't know if it's a good thing that they feel the way I felt about something. They're in another world. I try to, you know, tell there is racism out there. I don't want them to be shocked by it, but at the same time they shouldn't be as paranoid as I am because, you know, their circumstances are so much different. I think my father's world is much closer to mine because we pretty much grew up the same way. My father and mother were able to give us a slightly better life than they had. But because of success, you're right, it's not only the times, but just because of money it's almost like I've been able to take my kids into a time machine and go to another planet almost. But there's still stuff happening in that planet. My kids, you know, they travel the world. They go to Africa, they do volunteer work in Brooklyn they, you know, they know what's going on. But they're never going to know like a poor kid knows. You know, we'll see. You know, I think I'm doing a good job, but until life punches one of them in the face we'll see what they're made of. Life punched me in the face pretty early, and my kids are probably not going to get punched for, you know, for another 10 years. So we'll see, we'll see if it's a better - if they had a better childhood than me or not.
GROSS: Chris Rock, thank you so much for talking with us.
ROCK: You're welcome.
GROSS: Chris Rock wrote, directed and stars in the new movie comedy "Top Five." Coming up jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews two reissues featuring the late soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy. This is FRESH AIR.
TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. The soprano saxophone of Steve Lacy is featured in two new reissues - a live recording of a 1963 Quartet that only played Thelonious Monk tunes and a later recording of music for solo soprano. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has a review. He says Monk was always Lacy's biggest influence.
(SOUNDBITE OF THELONIOUS MONK SONG, "SCHOOL DAYS")
KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Trombonist Roswell Rudd and bassist Henry Grimes in 1963, two musicians who'd later drop out and then make big comebacks. That's from Rudd and Steve Lacy's newly reissued, low fidelity live classic "School Days." It's the only relic of a singular band that combined the very different collective improvising styles of Dixieland and free jazz. Lacy and Rudd had played both. Even weirder, they did it on tunes by the non-free, non-Dixieland modernist, Thelonious Monk. They roped together three divergent styles just like that.
(SOUNDBITE OF STEVE LACY AND ROSWELL RUDD SONG, "SCHOOL DAYS")
WHITEHEAD: The daring choices Steve Lacy and Roswell Rudd made were mostly practical. Monk's music was built around thick piano harmonies. They didn't have a piano, so to thicken the texture, they'd fill in the blanks behind each other solos.
(SOUNDBITE OF STEVE LACY AND ROSWELL RUDD SONG)
WHITEHEAD: In 1963 and ever after, Steve Lacy and Roswell Rudd had terrific chemistry - opposites attract. Lacy's soprano tone was thin, pure and cool, Rudd's trombone sound - big and argumentative. But they read each other very well. And their focus on the details of Monk's tunes make their improvised counterpoint very well ordered. Like Monk, they always mind the melody some kind of way. Their interplay is most aggressive on two trios recorded before the bass player showed up. The horns engage in free dialogues, even as they mark out the forms. On Monk's "Bahia," drummer Dennis Charles' Caribbean lilt sways their phrasing and lifts the bandstand.
(SOUNDBITE OF STEVE LACY AND ROSWELL RUDD, "BAHIA")
WHITEHEAD: Decades later, Steve Lacy said when Roswell and I had our band in the early '60s, the idea was repertory. But the idea was so radical no one would touch us. Now everyone wants to play Monk tunes and repertory is institutionalized. He called that. Lacy was deep into Monk by the early '60s; he'd already recorded in all-Monk album and briefly played in the pianist's own group. The new edition of "School Days" on the M & N label adds a couple of tunes Lacy played with Thelonious Monk at a 1960 Festival. This is "Evidence."
(SOUNDBITE OF STEVE LACY AND ROSWELL RUDD, "EVIDENCE")
WHITEHEAD: Steve Lacy delved into Monk's music to analyze his composing. He ran with Monk's wisdom, beginning with the idea that your voice as jazz composer starts with your sound and timing as an improviser, that way your tune and your solo always fit together. Lacy learned from Monk about leaving space in the music and the attractions of childlike sing-song phrases that invite variation. Lacy blossomed as a composer in the 1970s when he also began playing a lot of solo concerts. That stark setting helped clarify his concept.
(SOUNDBITE OF STEVE LACY SONG, "WICKETS")
WHITEHEAD: "Wickets," from another Steve Lacy retrospective on M & N, "Cycles." Two CDs collecting mostly unheard solo performances recorded from 1976 to 1980. Lacy's improvisations develop in such a clear, unhurried way, it's like we're eavesdropping on his thinking. These days, you hear Lacy's influence all over in Branford Marsalis's new solo album, in various works by the great soprano specialists Jane Ira Bloom and Sam Newsome. And in bands that spotlight Lacy's compositions, likes Ideal Bread and The Whammies. Improvising composers study Steve Lacy's music the way he studied Monk's - to grab good ideas and then make them their own.
(SOUNDBITE OF JAZZ MUSIC)
GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and Wondering Sound and is the author of "Why Jazz." He reviewed the re-issues "School Days," featuring Steve Lacy and Roswell Rudd and "Cycles" featuring Steve Lacy. This is FRESH AIR.
TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. Our classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz lives in Boston and has been visiting and revisiting the current exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. It's one of the largest shows ever seen in this country, featuring the work of the Spanish painter Francisco Goya. Here's Lloyd's review.
LLOYD SCHWARTZ, BYLINE: Goya was one of the most complicated artists who ever lived - one of the most unflinching and pervasively ironic. In his 82 years, he produced a vast output of paintings, prints and drawings that included images of human folly and superstition, the innocence of childhood and the horrors of aging, images of sex, love and marriage and divorce, images of the Spanish court, both elegant and satirical, images of the ravages of war and subtle portraits - all ranging in technique from the exquisitely refined and painterly to the raw, rough and cartoon-like - almost pre-modern.
With 170 works from its own impressive holdings, as well as from major international museums and private collections, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts has assembled a labyrinthine exhibit organized by theme rather than the more academic chronological order, which allows us to observe the artists of varying approaches over his long career. Take his self-portraits, for instance. When you enter the galleries, the first thing you see is a huge canvas depicting the young Goya painting members of a royal family in exile. He's kneeling next to an easel in one corner, craning his neck to see the young matriarch conversing with her hairdresser, her elderly and unprepossessing husband playing solitaire and their young children with their servants, including the family's young chef, who's grinning directly at us. The dapper figure standing on the right might be the composer Luigi Boccherini. Goya is hardly glamorizing this disheveled group at its morning ritual.
In the Boston show, this mock-epic scene is flanked by two smaller but hardly less conventional self-portraits. One shows Goya painting, standing almost silhouetted by the glare of sunlight from a window behind him. He's wearing a matador costume, and his hat has spikes to hold candles when it gets too dark to paint in natural light. His fierce eyes are burning with confidence. On the other side of the family portrait is a devastating self-portrait from 20 years later, showing the weary face of an artist who has seen and been through a lot - illness, deafness, the deaths of five of his six children, war.
But Goya's greatest self-portrait is saved for the very last room. It's actually a double portrait of the elderly artist in the arms of his doctor - his friend, Goya writes in an inscription at the bottom of the painting, who has saved his life. The artist is ashen, his eyes barely open. He's clutching his bed clothes and leaning back as the doctor cradles him, offering him a glass of medicine or wine, as several mysterious dark figures look on. It's a pose familiar from religious art - the image of an angel supporting the dead Christ.
Once this heart-breaking painting returns to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, you won't be to see it right next to Goya's last altar piece, a 10-foot high canvas from Madrid, never seen in this country before. In it, a priest in a dark, cavernous church bends over to offer last communion to the frail St. Joseph of Calasanz, who founded an order dedicated to the education of poor children, who are among the onlookers. It was an inspired idea to hang next to each other these two powerful and moving late images of succor and humility.
Some of Goya's most iconic paintings - "The Naked Maja," "Third Of May," "The Royal Family" - remain at the Prado Museum in Madrid, but the Prado has lent 21 other pieces. The most familiar painting in the Boston show is from the Met in New York. It's the young boy in a red jumper holding a magpie on a leash. The magpie has Goya's calling card in its beak. In the dark, three steely-eyed cats are eyeing the magpie. It's a picture of threatened innocence in a world of cats. On a nearby wall is a penetrating portrait of the child's knowing grandmother, painted just three years after the early death of her too fragile grandchild.
The subtitle of this show is "Order And Disorder." One of my favorite stopping points includes a group of drawings - one showing people ice-skating, another with a man on roller-skates trying desperately to keep his balance. Nearby is a priest trying to walk a tight rope and an etching of a bullfighter in the bullring, pole-vaulting over a bull. Some of us, Goya seems to say, can keep our equilibrium better than others. This extraordinary exhibit shows that it's just what Goya himself tried to do his entire life.
GROSS: Lloyd Schwartz reviewed Goya: Order and Disorder, which is on view at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts through January 19.
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